Me and my favorite partner in crime, Tali the unicorn woman, went to the TEDx talk in Auckland on Saturday and to the Generation Zero conference on New Zealand’s role in climate change tonight. It. Was. Amazeballs.
Being in a room full of people that agree with you on a lot of things is always exhilarating. As a very mass-critical German I don’t let myself give in to the sweet feeling of belonging to a crowd too much, but really- if I wanted to belong with a mass of people, then it would definitely be the kind I met there. Funny, energetic, tech-savvy hipsters that really give a shit and walk their talk. Yes, thank you, more please.
So, apart from drawing funny pictures, I will obviously share some of the important, inspiring, thought provoking, well presented, funny, and deeply touching content from those two events. I’ll only give you teasers, though. You really have to go yourself, if you want to be fully blown away 🙂
Everything I love about Kiwis is represented by this guy. Full points on humor, full points on being practical, no ego involved. I simply c a n ‘ t b e l i e v e he’s a successful politician. There’s HOPE after all.
And this a quote by one of the Generation Zero people (that I’m totally going to get involved with! If you live in NZ you should, too!!! http://generationzero.org.nz):
She says that her motivations have since changed, but I have it noted that her original drive to act on climate change was that she felt that it was always the most vulnerable who were affected and how this provoked strong feelings of injustice. I think young activist stereotypes have changed. I feel like I hear words like ‘clever’ and ‘savvy’ thrown around as often as ‘idealistic’ – but (luckily) I don’t think empathy has been rooted out just yet.
(Rachel Evans on Maddy Foreman, http://blog.generationzero.org.nz/awa/39)
I’m reading a lot about heroin addiction in Third World countries right now. It’s a sad and dark topic, yet a good example for something really important:
Under any circumstances, people are people. You might think that you’re very different from a Tanzanian sex worker that has been raped by her stepfather throughout her entire childhood and just recently started injecting heroin after being tricked into the addiction by her current boyfriend, who also regularly beats her up. But you’re really, really not.
“They [people who do not use drugs] despise us so much; they see us as a certain insect. Yes we, who are heroin users, we perceive our fellows who are not using as better than us, because for us to take bath is a problem, for us to wash is a problem.” (McCurdy et al., 2005)
This isn’t incomprehensible to us, is it? These are so obviously not the words of aliens that act and react totally differently to our world than me and you. Nevertheless, they’re treated like aliens, or worse, insects by their neighbours, by their government and by global health policies.
I grew up in the most protected area of one of the cities with the lowest unemployment in the most conservative state of one of the richest countries in the world. “Heroin junkie” was a single story told to me solely by the media, because there were no real life examples around. The term linked in my head to “poor, dirty, dangerous, homeless, crazy, alone”. So when I was working with injecting drug users in Berlin, the experience of hanging out with patients in the waiting room struck me as most surprising. I was surprised to find people polite, easy to talk to and funny. They might have been raped in their early childhood by their parents, or were forced to work in the sex industry, or they might have killed someone with a bread knife when they were only nine years old, but that hadn’t changed the fact that they were living, breathing, feeling people with a whole bunch of traits that had nothing to do with their severely damaging socialization. On one of my first days I interviewed the bread knife murderer. Obviously, we had an extremely interesting conversation. Afterwards, I thanked him for his openness about his incredible life story and stretched out my hand to shake his. He looked at my hand for a few seconds in bewilderment, before he took it. He had the saddest smile on his face, when he looked back up at me to say goodbye. I didn’t understand what had happened for a while. It felt like I had done something wrong, but was too insecure to ask him about it. Only after meeting a whole lot of other patients with similar life stories, some of them coming right from the street, looking a lot more ripped and dirty than my first patient, I understood his hesitation in taking my hand: They were all not used to being treated with respect and kindness. They were used to people changing their seats on the underground because of them. They were used to being judged and distrusted.
Realizing this pained me and it still does. During my time in Berlin, it became so glaringly obvious to me that not only do we actively hurt minorities by stigmatizing them; we also have the power of bending what they believe about themselves, so they eventually start hurting themselves. Heroin addicts might be a quite extreme example and surly, no one is going to solve their problems by shaking their hands without hesitation. But think of all the other people that you might be treating with prejudice and contempt. Maybe, if you approached them with an open smile from now on, you’ll find a few really cool new friends and broaden your horizon. Just sayin’- I have friends in Berlin now that could probably kill you.
Sometimes, friends or family members come up to me and say things like “You know, I drive to work by bike every day now!” or “I only drink soy milk!” or “I haven’t spent one penny on new cloths this month!” or “I just donated a hundred Euros to this organisation!” and then they look at me with bright, shiny eyes, apparently waiting for my enthusiastic appraisal of their actions. I even had several people ask me directly if I think they’re a “good person”. It made me deeply uncomfortable, because I absolutely have no right, nor any conscious intention to claim a prerogative to judge others on the grounds of ethics.
I’m not the kind of person who does things without caring what other people think. To be quite clear, almost every decision I make, everything I say or do has a strong social component. I think, I’m probably even more dependent on other people’s attention and opinion than the average. BUT this should be entirely one-directional. I don’t want to judge people, neither in a mean way nor in some kind of benevolent way. Many of my psychologist friends suffer from not being able to dislike people wholeheartedly anymore, because we’re trained to understand the enormously complex causalities of human behaviour. You don’t dare to point you’re finger at anyone anymore, after you read some papers on really polarizing topics, such as paedophilia, suicide or domestic violence.
That’s one reason, why I don’t want to judge anyone. The other reason is more personal and obviously even more important: I have pretty damn obvious weaknesses. I’m a pain-in-the-ass know-it-all, I’m terribly prejudiced against men, I eat when I’m lonely, sad or stressed, I spend way too much time thinking about irrelevant crap, while making it seem as if I was deeply in thought over the most pressing philosophical questions, I’m terrible at taking criticism, and I’m as dependent on attention, appreciation and approval as a beaten dog. My god, I could go on forever…
So, if I’m ever like: “It makes me cringe when people don’t recycle.”, just please know that I cringe way more often about my own behaviour, than I do about others. And if I ever congratulate you on being an awesome person, I don’t mean that I have any special, superior ability to judge that. I just find that, in my humble and so easily corrupted opinion as a fellow human being, you are an awesome person.